The lightness of paradise and the reality of purgatory embodied by the new Marie Chouinard production

Usine C, 2022, Jérôme Bosch, Le jardin des délices – Courtesy Photo/ Sylvie-Ann PARÉ

A dance production imitating Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights 

Jérôme Bosch’s dance production was created by choreographer Marie Chouinard in honour of the painter’s 500th death anniversary. The performances took place at Usine C, located in the Gay Village, based on the famous oil painting located in El Prado in Madrid. 

The space is made of concrete and the stage can be accessed by climbing steps. When one walks in, it appears vast, as sounds resonate and are heightened from one corner to the other. There’s even a bar on the lower level.

The performance was organized in three acts, representing Bosch’s triptych painting. It started with a display of paradise in the centre, followed by the purgatory from the right panel, and ended with the joining of Adam and Eve from the left panel. 

The final show was entirely full, tickets completely sold out. It was exhilarating to sense the excitement in the room at a representation of a painting admired by so many. 

Before the dancers appeared, a screen in the back showed the painting of the earthly delights, closing up on scenes that would be imitated. 

As the act of paradise started, dancers entered the stage with animalistic movement, the first two resembling insects. The dancers entered one after the other, moving with inhuman contortions.

As they came on and off the stage, two rounded screens on either side of the stage showed the details in the painting that were being imitated in the dance. These imitations were both remarkable and hilarious, as the dancers contorted their bodies to emulate Bosch’s characters. 

Though the dancers were nearly naked, save a small string over their lower stomach, there was nothing that could be sexually perceived, as their movements were so deformed from anything remotely human. 

The superfluous movements captured spectators’ attention and at times produced bouts of laughter in the crowd. 

The second act made everyone regret the first. As purgatory descended upon us, we were submerged in darkness. Light fell slowly on one dancer, who was standing on two buckets yelling into a mic in her hands as she contorted her body at disturbing angles. 

Screeches echoed across the room; maddening noises — sounds that traumatize the mind — building craze within the audience. 

Even when the sentiment of true purgatory was sensed in the audience, the dancer did not stop her shrieks. This served to push the comfort levels of the audience, and show a very real instance of hell, as horrid sounds were uttered into the mic, everyone was regretting paradise. 

Witnessing her distortions and hearing her cries produced a sentiment of insanity within me, that I could not brush away for hours after the performance. 

Subsequently, dancers entered the scene creating a catastrophe within their purgatorial movements. As one dancer was shown repeatedly sliding off stairs never reaching the top, another was running around widely shoving their head into a dumpster. They were all moving randomly, acts of utter strangeness, creating an immense racket. 

The final triad was from the Garden of Eden. Two eyes were displayed on either screen, showing Adam waking, and staying in a trance as he gazed at Eve. 

The actors’ movements were so slow in this episode that it seemed impossible. Dancers who previously seemed utterly distraught were now united in synchronized movements, representing either Adam or Eve, in duos. They metamorphosed into a paradise form far from reality, cutting off from the previous hell.  

When the performance ended, the dancers were showered with claps from the audience. People stood up and applauded for over five minutes, which is quite a while in the realm of appraisal. Emulations of paradise and purgatory were created with such precision that they could be felt by the audience. This impeccable work left spectators stunned at the beauty of it.

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